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March 11, 2017

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An ink-wash feel of Hudec’s masterpieces

HONG Jian’s dream is to capture the beauty of old architecture in Shanghai in his art. The artist, who was born in the city in 1967, grew up in a downtown area that was lined with Western-style villas and apartments. The neighborhood had a quiet aura, shadowed by phoenix trees.

After the “Shanghai Stories” and “Suzhou Creek” series, the ink-wash painter is now working on the “Hudec” series.

László Hudec was a Hungarian-Slovak architect who worked in Shanghai from 1918 to 1945, and designed 60 buildings, including the Park Hotel, the Grand Theater, the American Club and Moore Memorial Church.

Knowing about Hudec was the best way to study Shanghai. In fact, there have been many photographers and writers who have been caught up in this Hudec fever, but it is the first time that Hong is recreating Hudec’s works on rice paper.

“I planned to paint 60 to 80 buildings for this project for around two years,” he says. “My friend joked that this time I am doing something bigger.”

A graduate of Academy of Fine Arts from Shanghai University, Hong majored in Chinese ink-wash painting. After graduation, he worked in a publishing house and drew sketches in oil and sketches.

Between 1985 and 1990, a group of over 1,000 young Chinese artists living in an environment without galleries, museums, or any systematic support for art but with unprecedented enthusiasm and passion led a fundamentally influential artistic movement, known as the “85 New Wave.”

After 1985, “contemporary art” irreversibly became the driving force behind Chinese art. Young ink-wash artists tried to experiment with their works or fused them into installations at a time when the 85 New Wave movement was ripe and avant-garde art was in vogue. “I didn’t like to blindly follow any trend. When most people said that traditional art was dead, I preferred to wait,” he says.

Hong paints landscapes, flowers and birds and figures — everything that sooths his heart.

But that doesn’t mean he is isolated from the outside world. In fact, he is very keen to learn the Western contemporary art.

“I used light and shade to get a better perspective on architecture,” he says.

Those old buildings under his brushstrokes are a combination of the traditional technique blended with a modern aesthetic taste. The details of each brick and layers are vividly reflected, and each curving Art Deco lines are well mirrored.

“The sensible part in Western architecture is something that I prefer to fully ‘restore’,” he says.

But there is also some other message that the artist wants to deliver.

“There are no figures in my works. I want to create a cold and distant image — in my eyes, a peculiar characteristic of the city of Shanghai,” he says.

The concrete walls, the steel sashes and a withered winter afternoon that he conjures up in these old buildings also strengthen the contrast between urban and countryside scenes.

However, different from his tableau that often radiates a cold and pessimistic image, Hong, in real life, is just the opposite. He is a frequent traveler and prefers to roam around on motorcycles.

“I am a Scorpio, so there is something crazy in my blood,” he says with a smile. “Every year I travel abroad with friends. I feel that what I see and experience during trips enable me to break my shackles in both life and art.”


Q: Do you recall the first building that you painted?

A: It was the former residence of Ke Ling (1901-2000), a famous Chinese dramatist, at 147 Fuxing Road W. in 2006. The painting was the start of a new series called “Shanghai Stories.” I knew that I had found a perfect subject for both my art and personal character.

Q: For almost a decade, you have painted many old houses and buildings in the city. Which area and which building is your favorite?

A: I especially like to wander from Fuxing Road W. to Changshu Road — this is the part that I am familiar with. In my eyes, there is something unspeakable that permeates from there. As for my favorite buildings, it might be the Sieh Yih Chapel on Hami Road, designed by Hudec and built in 1931. The building is in Byzantium style with Gothic windows — quite rare in the country.

Q: You are now doing a series on Hudec’s works in Shanghai. How many do you plan to do, and when will they all be done and shown to the public?

A: I have completed about 20 pieces now. The total number should be around 80. There will be a small exhibition in early 2018 in Slovakia, and another big one is being planned at Liu Haisu Art Museum later. I am thinking of enriching this exhibition with some background on Hudec, his architecture models and related documentation that might be of some help to those who are interested in the architect.

Q: Two months ago, you held a joint exhibition of your pictures in Cuba. Are you also interested in photography?

A: In my eyes, Cuba is a magical place. People are enthusiastic and the brilliant hues in Havana are amazing. Sometimes I feel that photography is compensation of things I can’t do on rice paper. But that is just my hobby. My focus is still on ink-wash painting.

Q: Who is your favorite artist in the West and in China?

A: Giorgio Morandi and Shen Zhou (1427-1509) respectively. I like the colors and ambience in Morandi’s paintings, though what he painted were only bottles and jars.

Q: After the “Hudec” series, do you have any other project in mind?

A: In fact, I have several series in mind. One is to continue my “Suzhou Creek” series, and another is my own interpretation of some of the well-known Chinese masterpieces. The most challenging series for me will be the depiction of the new buildings in the city. They might not be easy to strike a chord in the heart of the viewers. But that’s my concept, or to be more exact, my personal experiment in art.


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